Thursday, June 2, 2016

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim Allowed to Proceed in Med Mal Case

In his May 18, 2016 decision in the case of Page v. Moses Taylor Hospital, 2011-CV-1402 (C.P. Lacka. Co. May 18, 2016 Nealon, J.), Judge Terrence R. Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas addressed claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress in the context of a medical malpractice case.  

In this case, the Plaintiff commenced a medical malpractice claim against various medical Defendants for allegedly failing to properly diagnose and treat the Plaintiff’s preeclampsia during her pregnancy with twins as a result of which the Plaintiff allegedly suffered an eclamptic seizure that allegedly resulted in the stillbirth of the twins due to a placental abruption allegedly attributable to the Plaintiff’s seizure and her other medical conditions.  

The Plaintiff instituted a cause of action on behalf of her stillborn twins under the Wrongful Death Act and the Survival Act, along with her own independent claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress related to the death of her twins.  

Various Defendants filed a Pre-Trial Motion In Limine seeking to preclude the Plaintiff from introducing any evidence in support of her claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress on the grounds that the Plaintiff allegedly did not experience or observe a discrete and identifiable traumatic event since she was unconscious at the time that the stillborn twins were delivered, given that the Plaintiff was not aware of any alleged malpractice by her treating health care providers during her prenatal care and treatment, and given that the Plaintiff had not produced any expert report from a psychiatrist or a psychologist detailing that she suffered from emotional harm.  

The Defendants were also seeking to bar the Plaintiff from introducing evidence of any emotional or psychological harm she suffered as a result of this matter.  

After reviewing the various elements of a valid claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, including the physical impact test, the zone of danger test, and bystander liability, the court noted that the Plaintiff was asserting that her negligent infliction of emotional distress claim was viable under the “physical impact” rule as giving birth to a stillborn child physically impacts the mother.   The court cited other trial court Opinions allowing such a claim to proceed under the physical impact theory. 

Judge Terrence R. Nealon
Lackawanna County

Accordingly, Judge Nealon ruled that irrespective of whether or not the Plaintiff could prove her claim under a bystander theory of liability for negligent infliction of emotional distress, Plaintiff could proceed with that claim pursuant to the “physical impact” rule.  

The court also rejected the defense arguments that the Plaintiff failed to offer any evidence that she was aware of any alleged malpractice by her treating providers during her prenatal care or treatment or that the Plaintiff had failed to produce any expert report from a psychiatrist or psychologist detailing that she had suffered emotional harm.   The court noted that there were several Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas decisions rejecting the argument that a patient pursuing a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress must realize, at the time of the medical care at issue, that the treatment deviated from the standard or care.  

Citing Superior Court precedent, Judge Nealon also ruled that that supporting medical proof is not required to sustain a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress.   Rather, provided that the Plaintiff presented proof that she had experience some physical manifestation of her emotional distress, such as persistent depression, nausea, sleep disturbance, nightmares, flashbacks, breathing difficulties or hysterical attacks, Plaintiff may proceed on a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.  

Judge Nealon also noted that, even assuming for argument’s sake that the Plaintiff was unable to sustain a valid claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, she would not be foreclosed from seeking to recover damages for the emotional distress and mental anguish she suffered from the stillbirth of her twins.  Rather, such damages were allowed under the wrongful death act.  

Accordingly, the court denied the defense Motion In Limine filed against the Plaintiff’s claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress and/or claims for damages for the emotional distress and mental anguish she suffered from the stillbirth of her twins.  

Anyone desiring a copy of this decision may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

No comments:

Post a Comment